Ron McGinty has worked with nearly two dozen kids in his four years as a guardian ad litem, but it was his conversation with one girl, a third-generation foster child, that convinced him to do more. Her mother had left home at 14 and had six kids, all of whom ended up in the foster-care system. “My passion went to the highest level” after working on her case, says McGinty, who in 2011 joined the board of directors for Youth Haven, a local nonprofit that provides shelter for abused, neglected, and homeless children.
The Naples resident became interested in No Barriers USA, which sponsors an adventure-travel program designed to build confidence and leadership skills in inner-city youths. McGinty approached its co-founder, Eric Weihenmayer, known for his bravery as the only blind person to summit Mount Everest, about expanding the program to include foster kids in Southwest Florida. It was a demographic No Barriers had never served before. “I was hoping that a local organization would take this on as a project,” McGinty says. “But nobody wanted to touch it” because of how expensive it was. So McGinty left Youth Haven after a three-year term to work with Weihenmayer on the project.
After three years of logistical and legal barriers and months of preparation, 10 foster kids embarked on a 10-day expedition in July. The participants are all girls, aged 15 to 18. Nine live with foster parents and one is in a Fort Myers group home. The trip included white-water rafting along the Rio Grande and five days on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona. The goal was to empower these young people to achieve great things—and to open their eyes to the plight of those even less fortunate than themselves. Among the trip rules? No makeup, no cell phones.
A film crew joined them to make a documentary in the hope that it will help recruit more participants. Next year, McGinty plans to send 10 boys on the same adventure. The all-expenses-paid trip costs $5,000 per child; McGinty, who retired 20 years ago from his role as director of the IT staffing firm he founded in 1983, says he raised $95,000 from his friends and donated $30,000 himself—enough to sponsor 25 children.
All the girls pledged to do public service in their community after they returned. “That’s a commitment,” McGinty says. “That’s what gives the program wings.”